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DVDs I think you should own #3 – Dead Man’s Shoes

23/01/2011

I have a lot of respect and admiration for Shane Meadows. A film maker of immense talent and integrity he has been responsible for some amazing films and equally amazing tv (the potent and disturbing This Is England ’86). Dead Man’s Shoes was the first film of his that I saw and remains to this day a firm favourite. There are slight spoilers ahead, I’ll try and keep them to a minimum.

The eternally watchable Paddy Considine plays Richard, a man who has mysteriously reappeared in town after having left to join the army. His reappearance causes much consternation to a local gang of drug dealers. Spurred on by his younger brother Richard embarks on a brutal mission of vengeance against the gang, his reasons being slowly revealed in flash back. One by one he works his way through the group, terrorising them and ultimately killing them.

It is deftly executed (excuse the pun), being amusing and disturbing in equal measure, something Meadows is exceedingly adept at with his films. Considine’s performance as Richard is superb, flickering between startling psychosis and human vulnerability with ease. As with all of Meadows’ work the characters feel like real people and despite the slightly unrealistic situation, the people embroiled in it are realistic enough to distract from its slightly more absurd moments.

The drug dealers are a far cry from Goodfellas style all powerful mobsters. The Sopranos this most assuredly isn’t. A group of old-enough-to-know-better pot heads who fancy themselves as gangsters, even though they spend most of their time getting high on their own supply you almost feel sorry for them when Richard comes calling. They are completely out of their depth when faced with his military experience and determination to see them pay for their crimes against him. Their complete inability to intimidate him (you suspect they are more used to threatening schoolkids looking to buy a bit of weed) is hilarious. Like all bullies, their leader collapses when someone stands up to him.

There is a standout scene (I don’t want to say too much about it for fear of spoling it) where our hero spikes the gang’s kettle with drugs in order to more easiy facilitate his revenge. What starts out as quite a light hearted scene rapidly descends into one of the most disturbing moments of cinema I’ve witnessed which almost forces you to change sides when the depth of Richard’s mental instability reveals itself in all its dark, sadistic glory.

It’s a phenomenal film, a sort of Midlands Taxi Driver if you like. It’s quite challenging to watch (my girlfriend disliked it intensely for its overt grimness) but rewarding. If you like films with depth and complexity and don’t mind a bit of cinematic pessimism then this is the film for you.

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